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Getting to know athletes and coaches is one of the best aspects of covering a core group of schools for a significant length of time. And it's always fun to see the people you first knew as athletes eventually make their way into teaching and coaching.
That's what made it pretty cool to cover Monday night's Class 4A girls basketball supersectional game at Dundee-Crown when Huntley faced Wheaton Warrenville South.
In a way, it seems odd to refer to Huntley's Steve Raethz as a veteran coach, but 14 years in charge of the girls program would qualify him for that category. Yet it doesn't seem that long ago that Raethz was a Daily Herald All-Area basketball player at Hoffman Estates in 1994.
So, although there's no cheering in the proverbial press box and we're supposed to remain impartial, it was tough on a personal level for me not to be pulling for Raethz's Red Raiders. It was nice to see his young team make it downstate for the first time with a 47-43 victory that exhibited the discipline, intensity and defensive tenacity that were trademarks of his as a high school player.
All of those traits that made him successful as a player at Hoffman under Bill Wandro were necessary when Raethz got the job after a successful four-year career at St. Norbert College, just outside of Green Bay, Wis. Huntley's girls program never had a winning season before Raethz arrived and lost 23 of 25 games in his first season.
Now Huntley has won a school-record 26 games in a season that also includes its first sectional championship. But the deflection of credit for the program's transformation is no surprise from someone whose playing style was one of more substance than style.
"It says a lot about the players who have come through the program and the commitment that's come from those players," Raethz said during the postgame bedlam Monday night. "I'm so pleased to be able to share that moment with them.
"I knew I wanted to get into education and work with kids and it was a lifelong dream to coach. I was so fortunate to get the opportunity right out of college and take the reins of a program. It's been a great ride the last 14 years."
Especially since Raethz gets to share it at what could be considered "Hoffman West." Raethz was a senior when Huntley boys coach Marty Manning was a sophomore at Hoffman. Wandro just finished his second year as Manning's assistant after retiring from teaching and coaching at Hoffman.
"Everyone, from when my dad started teaching me the game of basketball to my high school coaches and college coaches, shaped what I believe are my philosophies," Raethz said. "I've really, really enjoyed the ride the last 14 years and that's why I'm so pleased about this win."
In a cool little sidelight, Raethz will be facing another Mid-Suburban League graduate in tonight's semifinals with Buffalo Grove alum Ryan Kirkorsky leading Rolling Meadows. It's also been fun to see Kirkorsky have a tremendous start to his tenure at Meadows after coming over from a successful stint at Elk Grove.
The sidelines in Monday's Hoffman 3A girls supersectional also had an MSL flavor with Vernon Hills' Paul Brettner (Meadows) and Burlington Central's Mark Smith (Elk Grove). It was another case of being happy for both guys since Brettner — who joked that he didn't quite fit the billing of the battle of former MSL stars — is an old college friend from Bradley and I was fortunate to cover Smith during his tenure as the Harper College women's coach a few years ago.
And it's also been fun to see the success enjoyed in the boys hoops coaching ranks by former all-area players such as Matt Walsh (Conant) of MSL champion Schaumburg, John Camardella (Hersey) of MSL East champion Prospect, Glenn Olson (Meadows) at Central Suburban North champion Niles North and St. Viator's Mike Howland at his alma mater. Talking to all of them after games they played doesn't seem as if it was that long ago.
Passing along congratulations: Three boys coaches with MSL ties also produced some significant accomplishments in the last two weeks.
• Former Barrington and Crystal Lake South coach Marty Dello led Chicagoland Jewish Academy in Deerfield to the Mooseheart Class 1A sectional championship game after Wednesday's 70-67 semifinal upset of the hosts. Chicagoland Jewish is 21-3 in Dello's second year as head coach and will play Newark for the title at 7:30 p.m. Saturday,
• Former Schaumburg head coach Bob Williams won his 400th career game last week when Niles West beat Maine West. Williams was 347-156 at Schaumburg (1991-2009) with a Class AA state title in 2001 and a fourth-place finish in 1999.
• Former Hoffman assistant Pat Ambrose led Stevenson to its first North Suburban Conference title since 1992 with a win over North Chicago in the league title game last week. The Patriots, who are the top seed in the Waukegan 4A sectional, play Waukegan for the Prospect regional crown at 7:30 p.m. Friday.